The Harmful Message Behind a Ban on Those Who Protect and Serve

In a series of tweets published in late July, President Trump announced that the U.S. military would no longer allow transgender men and women to serve in any capacity. The president cited medical costs and distractions to military focus as the reasons behind his surprise announcement, despite a previous study by the RAND National Defense Research Institute that counters these claims.

Military officials were quick to assure the public that no actions would be taken until official directives were provided from the White House. Still, reactions to the announcement were passionate. A Quinnipiac University poll taken during the days following the tweets found that about two-thirds of Americans said they believe that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military. High-ranking military officials also doubled down on their support for transgender men and women in their ranks, who may number as high as 15,000 for people currently serving. And slightly more than two weeks after the tweets, five transgender active members of the military filed a lawsuit against the president’s directive.

The implications for a ban on transgender service in the military can be far-reaching not just for those in the military, but for the transgender community as a whole. To shed light on the potential effects of a ban on transgender service, we sat down with USC professors Jeremy Goldbach, an expert on LGBT mental health, and Carl Castro, Director of the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR), who recently published a co-authored report on life after the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy for LGBT service members.

To what extent do you believe that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell shifted the culture of the military to be more tolerant and accepting of the LGBT community? What kind of impact can a ban on transgender people have on military culture?

 

Castro: The elimination of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell sent a powerful message by senior military leaders that LGB service members are important members of the team, and that they should be allowed to express openly who they are. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell also ended the “witch hunts” that were taking place within the military.

Bans and restrictions are rarely positive. In the case of a possible transgender service member ban, the military would be saying that the costs of the organization to transgender service members serving would be greater than the benefits they provide to the organization. There is simply no evidence for this.

Goldbach: Certainly when you ban someone, you set a precedent that it is OK to treat those individuals as less than. This will potentially have a negative effect not just on transgender service members but others who serve.

How might a ban on the recruitment of transgender people impact the thousands of transgender men and women who are serving in our military today? What ripple effects may this ban have on other needs such as mental health care?

 

Goldbach: We have no idea how this would affect those currently serving — this is the problem with using a Twitter account to set “policy” rather than actually working with those in charge to determine the implications. This would likely have significant ripple effects on many minority communities who may also be the target of bias-based harassment.

Castro: A ban on recruitment would naturally make current transgender service members feel threatened and unwanted. The military would basically be saying, “We don’t value people like you.” This is why bans are dangerous and harmful.

What effect does a ban on transgender recruitment have on transgender civilians, particularly young transgender men and women?

 

Goldbach: Policies that promote discrimination have significant implications for the mental health of communities. Similar to hate crimes, this type of policy is not meant only to affect those serving, but to send a message to an entire community that their life is “not OK.” We should be honoring the lives of every individual who is willing to serve in our military and potentially give their life to protect the United States.

Castro: Serving your country is arguably the highest sign of patriotism. When your nations says, “We don’t want you in our military,” it’s saying we don’t value your patriotism. This can send the message that we don’t value you as a fellow citizen, as a fellow American. This could lead many to believe that transgender people don’t have the same rights as the rest of us and lead them to become victims of crime. This is what we need to make sure doesn’t happen, regardless of the ban.

Learn more about how the Center on Research and Innovation on Veterans and Military Families at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Work is working to support the military community by addressing issues such as the acceptance of LGBT service members, veteran homelessness and the challenging transition from military to civilian life.